The Dublin Arts Festival began in 1970, instigated by a group of university students. The festival grew over the next ten years to become an annual event, highlighting different areas of the city such as the Liberties (1972), the Old North City (1973), the Georgian North City (1974), South Georgian City (1975), Medieval Dublin (1976), Dublin 1660 – 1860 (1977), Medieval and Contemporary Dublin (1978) and Anna Livia (1979).
The walking tours, poetry readings, exhibitions and lectures drew in Dublin audiences, with poetry playing a central part in the festivals each year. Crowds came to hear the works of Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough, Maire Mhac an tSaoi, Thomas Kinsella and John Montague among many others. The poetry anthology ‘The First Ten Years, Dublin Arts Festival Poetry’, edited by Peter Fallon and Dennis O’Driscoll bears the festival symbol, affectionately known as the ‘Dublin Duck’. It was in fact a swan motif created by artist Jim Fitzpatrick in 1970.
The fifth annual Dublin Arts Festival ran from 8th to 17th March 1974. It was an ambitious programme with an average of 6 events per day for the 10 day period, as well as pre-festival events in the preceding week. The first of these was an exhibition of contemporary Irish Sculpture at the Bank of Ireland Headquarters on Baggot Street opened by President Childers on 30th April. Michael O’Toole, writing in the following day’s Evening Press, described the exhibition as:
“a mini Rosc, a riot of exciting shapes and colours by such stalwarts as John Behan and Melanie LeBrocquy.”
The varied programme of events in 1974 included classical, Irish and jazz music, with performances from Stephane Grappelli, the Chieftains and more, as well as theatre, poetry readings, exhibitions, lectures, literary and historical tours and special events such as a street orienteering event.
The festival focussed on the Georgian North City, and the programme illustrated the distinctive architecture, history and traditions of the area. The Festival programme featured two walking tours of the Georgian North City by Ian Broad illustrated with drawings by Michael O’Brien. The tours highlighted the literary associations of the area with writers such as James Joyce, Austin Clarke, Sean O’Casey, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Brendan Behan.
It is fascinating to read these tour routes and discover Dublin through the eyes of the writer 40 years earlier. The writer describes architectural details such as John Smyth’s statues atop the GPO on O’Connell Street – Hibernia, Fidelity with her faithful hound and Mercury the messenger of the Gods. He paints a vivid picture of the social history of the north city, chronicling the uses of street s and buildings.
Follow the second Dublin Arts Festival ’74 Tour, which begins beneath the O’Connell Monument and brings you through Middle Abbey Street, Jervis Street, to Henrietta Street and Parnell Square to Dorset Street via St. George’s Church and Berkeley Road.
The original 1974 Festival Programme is available to read at Dublin City Library and Archive.
Extract and images from the 1974 Festival Programme reproduced with kind permission from the copyright holders Tom Kennedy, Michael O’Brien and Ian Broad.